Bumps in the Road and Behind-the-Scenes Inventory
Written by: Lucy Oster
Late last month, I started my eleven week summer internship as a Historical Research Assistant at Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez, Mississippi. So much of this opportunity has been new and exciting for me. I’ve never experienced the deep South before, and its differences and similarities to New England are still surprising to me. For example, just randomly today I noticed how much more colorful the flowering trees are here — their pink is so much brighter here than it is in Maine!
In terms of my internship specifically, for the past couple of days I have been working on the park’s annual inventory with the curator (and also my co-intern!). There are three types of inventory: controlled property, random sample, and accessions. We started with the controlled property and random sample inventories.
Controlled property refers to valuable or at-risk park items, such as older materials or firearms. At Melrose, an antebellum mansion and one of Natchez Historical Park’s main sites, controlled property includes almost everything, since most of the items in the historic home are original. There were around six pages of controlled property inventory for the dining room alone!
Random sample inventory is essentially what it sounds like. It’s a random sample of all cataloged museum property — some of this can be the same as the controlled property inventory, but some of it includes different items that aren’t considered controlled property and otherwise wouldn’t be inventoried. This can lead us on some wild searches, since these items are not necessarily inventoried every year.
Inventorying items really gives me a deeper insight to the park. I now know exactly what is inside both Melrose and another park site, the William Johnson House, which was the home of a free Black man who worked as a barber in pre-Civil War Natchez.
Inventorying is also obviously fun to get to behind the scenes where visitors don’t get to go! For example, the toy collection in the William Johnson house isn’t as extensive as the one at Melrose, but during the inventory I did get to see the disembodied eyes of a 19th century doll that would otherwise be boxed away, and that was super cool.
Ultimately, I am learning a lot and really enjoying my time here. Our official project has hit a few road bumps, but I am grateful that I have gotten to work on the inventory since it isn’t something that I could have known that I liked without this opportunity.